ESPN will be in Tuscaloosa Tuesday for an 8 pm CST tip off between the Alabama Crimson Tide (11-6, 3-1 in SEC) and the Kentucky Wildcats (12-5, 3-1). The game will be played for sole possession of third place in the conference. What will it take for the Tide to get a win against the Wildcats? Here are six keys to an Alabama victory.
Anthony Grant’s team has averaged just 32 rebounds per game, which ranks 287th in the nation. When compared to Kentucky’s 36th ranked 38.9 per game, serious improvement is needed. Alabama’s bigs have struggled this season with competing in the post. The Wildcats have a couple of the most talented post players in the nation in freshman Nerlens Noel and Willie Cauley-Stein. The latter, however, is doubtful to play on Tuesday after a knee procedure on Friday. Moussa Gueye and Nick Jacobs will be the key post players matched up against the Kentucky stars. While Noel may be able to out rebound the two of them by himself, it will be the hustle from the small forward position that will be needed. Players like Devonta Pollard, Rodney Cooper and Andrew Steele will have to get more loose balls and not give the Wildcats second chances.
2. Foul trouble
This has not been too much of a cause for concern for the Tide all year, but Kentucky is a team that will force a team into errors and these situations. With Alabama’s lack of depth, they can’t afford to lose anyone for an extended amount of time. Forcing the Wildcats into foul trouble is another key to winning. If the Tide can stay strong in the post, both of Kentucky’s big men have been known to get in foul trouble early in games.
3. Guard Play
Alabama heavily relies on good games from guards Trevor Releford and Trevor Lacey. This game will be no different. The team’s leading scorers plus Andrew Steele will need to out play Kentucky’s All-Freshman guard combination of Ryan Harrow, Archie Goodwin and Julius Mays. All three players can score in many ways including the ability to shoot the three. These will be the matchups to watch and very well could decide the game’s outcome.
4. Play for 40 minutes
All season, the Tide has struggled putting together a full forty minutes of basketball. Early in the year it was struggling to hold on to a big lead. The past few games, it has been the slow start to hurt Alabama. Yes, they have had great second halves in those games, but a team cannot afford a dreadful start against Coach Calipari and the Wildcats. Shooting will need to start hot and stay consistent. There can’t be 11 minutes without a basket or Kentucky will make you pay.
When it comes to Alabama basketball, experience isn’t the first thing that comes to mind. However, even with just one Crimson Tide senior, a team full of freshman is coming to town and experience could play a factor. No one doubts that the Wildcats have plenty of talent, but in their five losses this season there have been questionable decisions made by freshman leading to key mistakes. The Tide need to keep their unforced errors limited while making sure the freshman of Kentucky feel the pressure.
It was 2011 the last time Alabama beat Kentucky in basketball, and the game was played in Coleman Coliseum. It can be a dangerous place for teams to visit when it is at full capacity. Fans will undoubtedly show up, but many of them will be for Kentucky. The Alabama students and fans can make the difference to a quick start for the Tide. If Coach Grant decides to press early, noise can add more pressure to the freshman and could cause turnovers.